20 Feb 2019
"Without adrenalin, you're cactus."
That's how champion Supercars driver Mark Winterbottom describes the sheer physical demands of driving a 1395kg, 635 brake horsepower Supercar at the Superloop Adelaide 500.
It's only recently that Supercars drivers have been recognised for the sheer physical conditioning required to steer these beast machines around Australia's hardest circuits.
It's no longer just AFL and NRL stars, or Olympians, who vie for the mantle of fittest athletes in the country.
Supercars drivers need to contend with some of the harshest environments in Australian sport, and nowhere else are they tested for their peak conditioning than the Superloop Adelaide 500...
A history steeped in the heat of battle
The opening round of the Supercars Championship had an impact in its very first year - 1999 - when drivers were forced to fight the incredibly hot conditions offered up by a 28-degree April day, with in-car temperatures able to reach over 60 degrees.
Now, it's held on the opening weekend of March, meaning temperatures on track are much hotter than they were in that first edition.
As 470-race veteran Winterbottom explains, the circuit's demands on the body are significant.
"When it's humid, it's worse [in Adelaide]," he told SuperloopADL500.com.au.
"If it gets humid, it gets muggy and claustrophobic... and nothing [to cool the driver] works.
"When it's 40 degrees and hot with low humidity, the coolsuit works perfect, but you get that burning sensation in your feet - it's a different feel.
"That's why [the race] is so brutal. It cooks you, like being in a little oven."
A gym session at over 230kmh
Think driving a car is easy? Think again.
With around 78 gear changes a lap, across 78 laps, the drivers will make the equivalent of more than six-thousand 40kg one-arm seated rows.
With 14 corners - that's 14 brake applications per lap - or over 1000 for the race.
That means drivers undergo over one-thousand 80kg single-leg presses.
That's an insane amount of work, in a gymnasium that reaches almost 70 degrees, across 150 minutes.
"You can imagine all that stuff going on, by the end of the day, you're knackered," Winterbottom said.
"If you tried to replicate what we do in the car, in the gym, you can't do it without adrenalin."
That adrenalin kicks-in to help the body deal with the pressure, but even then, the combativity of the sport - sparring with rivals in the tight confines in Adelaide - pushes the body to its limits.
"For me, I've actually got quite a low heart rate in the racecar, but it has been over 200 [beats per minute], so sustaining that for 2.5 hours, you can imagine the old ticker is going pretty high for a long time!" Winterbottom said.
"It's more when you're in the battle that your heart rate goes up when you should be trying to get it lower.
"There's always force going through the body... The thing about Adelaide is that when you're bouncing off curbs and trying to recover the car, the steering isn't light - although we've got power steering, it's not like a road car - so catching it off a corner is quite tough.
"The hardest part is the strain on your glutes, your lower back, and trying to back up [the next day]."
The appreciation of physical conditioning in the sport is particularly high compared to the sport 20 years ago.
With the increased professionalism in the last decade as international influence increased at the highest levels of team ownership, as well as via exposure to cross-code athletes, it's no wonder drivers seek to keep their body ready to gain the slightest advantage.
"You don't get the appreciation of how hard you train," Winterbottom says.
"The level is quite high.
"You do train for your sport, 2.5 hours at 70 degrees, all those loads going through your body - you can lose a race if you're not fit."
That fitness will be put to the test at the Superloop Adelaide 500, which opens the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship from February 28-March 3. Tickets are available here.
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